In Sanpete County during the 1870s, the seeds of "planting of Presbyterianism in the midst of this wilderness of sin" were sewn by the Rev. McMillan. The First Presbyterian Church of Manti is a product of this missionary effort, and though the Presbyterian work was directed toward the conversion of Mormon dissidents, its primary success in these early years of Utah history was education.
With the help of other ministers and a corps of female Presbyterian missionary teachers, the Rev. McMillan established congregations or schools throughout Sanpete and Sevier counties and in other parts of the Utah territory. His school at Mount Pleasant became the Wasatch Academy, which is still operating and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.Proselyting among the Mormons became increasing difficult, and conversions were slow. The Manti congregation dwindled through migration and reconversion to Mormonism, and when the Rev. McMillan died in 1917, the Presbyterian Church of Manti died with him. Subsequently, the First Presbyterian Church of Manti building, with its bell that had once rung for city curfews as well as church services, fell into disuse and disrepair. It is currently operated as a lodge hall.
Dr. T.D. Martin, son of the church's original pastor, G.W. Martin, described the building's construction in his "A Condensation of Presbyterian Work in Utah, 1869-1969":
"At a meeting of public spirited people April 20, 1880, it was determined that a Presbyterian church be erected. A building committee was formed and instructed to make plans and contract for labor and materials. Architect Peter Van Houghton of Salt Lake volunteered his services free of charge. The two committee members, Andrew Nelson and George W. Spicer, conferred with builders and stone masons in the county regarding the stone work. Mathias Andreason of Saltcreek (Nephi) was the successful bidder at $1,057.25 which is at the rate of $1.75 per 25 cubic feet. The Jenson brothers of Nephi were the successful bidders for finishing the building including the tower, for $1,700.00. A paragraph from the specifications reads as follows: `Flooring shall be 11/4 inch before dressing, Black Balsam, tongued and grooved, hand drawn or machine, well done, Plastering, 3 coats, hand finished, chalk strip, where needed. Partitions ready for blackboard . . . ' The corner stone was laid, with appropriate ceremonies April 22, 1881, and the dedication took place November 13th of the same year. The total cost including furnishing was $4,000.00 The church and school building is of oolite from the same quarry as the stone for the Manti (L.D.S.) Temple was taken. The structure is 30x55 feet and Gothic style."
The architect likely followed the design custom of the period by consulting architectural pattern books, and by working closely with the mason and the carpenters to coordinate the design in more detail.
The church has a gable roof in wood shingles. The front end of the gable has a turned wooden finial and simple scroll-sawn bargeboards - illustrated in the top portion of the gable in the rendering. The exterior walls are rough-faced stone in ashlar (square faced) bond.
The openings for the windows and doors have the familiar pointed Gothic arches of stone. The front facade (illustrated) has a large central window with the wooden tracery. It is flanked by panelled wood doors with arched transom windows.
The two-story stone tower has the panelled wood front door at the entry, and Gothic arch openings at the second story. The wooden belfry has three parts. The base is a steep-sided truncated pyramid covered with wood shingles. The next section, which still contains the bell, is open, and consists of wooden arches outlined by eight simple rectangular columns, which are topped by a tall, steep, flared hip roof covered with wood shingles.
The First Presbyterian Church of Manti documents the import role of a non-Mormon religious organization in stimulating improved educational opportunities in Utah, and the circumstances of its being also brings into perspective some of the often forgotten aspects of Mormon settlement history.